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Seahawks 90-man roster review: Meet the defensive backs

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the coming weeks, we’ll continue to look at the hopefuls on the Seattle Seahawks’ 90-man roster. Seattle had eleven draft picks and made several significant moves in free agency. These are some simple thoughts on the new players and things to look for as the athletes wait for training camp to begin in July 25th.

Corners: Jeremy Boykins, Davante Davis, Tre Flowers, Shaquill Griffin, Akeem King, Kalan Reed, Jamar Taylor, Derrek Thomas, Simeon Thomas, Neiko Thorpe. (10)

Safeties: Ugo Amadi, Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson, Marquise Blair, Marwin Evans, Jalen Harvey, Lano Hill, Shalom Luani. (8)

Whew. If it has felt like Seattle’s secondary has been a question mark for the past couple of years, this list does nothing to dispute that. It also validates that Pete Carroll really does have a soft spot for unproven corners and safeties – you can package about ten of these guys and get two seasons of starting NFL experience (both of those seasons coming from Jamar Taylor). The group is a combination of players they snatched off waivers from other teams (Simeon Thomas), undrafted rookies (Derrek Thomas), and guys who’ve started one game (Marwin Evans).

Unfortunately for these athletes, a significant number of the forty-seven players who don’t make it to final roster will come from this group. For now, we’re going to focus on the ones that have the best chance to make an impact this year.

Something to prove Marquise Blair. I give this to Blair because of his very limited high-level experience and his hoped-for 2019 contributions. Blair only played two years at Utah, and only nine games in his 2017 junior year. Meanwhile, his 2nd round status unquestionably signaled that the Seahawks are not comfortable daily rolling out Lano Hill or T2 for the next two to three years.

Blair was John Schneider’s second choice in this year’s draft that was questioned by the national draft experts. Incidentally, it was Schneider’s second pick. Bleacher Report tagged Blair as a 3rd or 4th round player, and even as high as Pro Football Focus was on Blair, Schneider was higher.

And yet – news recently broke that Blair is not currently practicing because of a hamstring injury. Poor timing for someone that Carroll and Schneider clearly hope might be a long-term answer for their softer-than desired defense at present.

Even more to prove – Tedric Thompson and (De)Lano Hill. I still remember being a junior at Whitworth University when my Track & Field coach told me about this new recruit they were excited to land from my hometown who was going to come in and big things in the 800m. I ran the 800m. I disliked the guy before I even saw his picture; no freshman was going to take my spot (he did) and I was never going to like him (I did).

That was as a nineteen-year-old running for a DIII school when we competed against guys named Lance and Phil who were theater and computer science majors.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in the same position in one’s early twenties, at the professional level, with salaries and careers on the line and thousands of hours honing one’s craft. But I imagine it’s an equally discouraging feeling that tangibly lives somewhere just above the navel.

Even as late as January, Pete Carroll was still emanating hope for the future, especially for Lano. T2 was the favorite topic of many players in camp last year. But what Seattle has done this offseason comes close to negating any real expectations for these two this season and beyond. With their second pick, Seattle took a safety. With a 4th round pick, they took corner/safety Ugo Amadi. They re-signed Akeem King (see below). In terms of talent, both safety positions are probably the closest battle for roster spot position this year. Hill and T2 have their work cut out for them to regain their former favor.

Biggest Loser - Shaquil Griffin – The Griffins Shaq hired a nutritionist over the offseason. Shaquil says he’s down twelve pounds, and has promised big things this season, embracing his role as the teams #1 corner. In an earlier interview with 710AM he gave himself a D+ rating on his overall performance last year. His play needs to improve, as Tre Flowers exceed expectations and yet the Hawks pass defense by DVOA was 3.1% by the end of the season. That was 19th in the league. So far, the report on his offseason is very good. The plethora of exceptional Seahawk corners in recent history has left this spot feeling like one of the biggest voids on this roster. This is the time for the former third-round pick out of UCF to prove Schneider right again.

Biggest factor in a playoff runBradley McDougald. McDougald finds himself in the enviable position of being the best player at his position – regardless of which position he plays. That may give some of you anxiety about this season of Seattle safeties, but at the very least McDougald continues to make John Schneider look like a genius with his three-year $13.5 million contract. Pete loves his guys with versatility, and McDougald is maybe the best Seattle has on defense as far as flexibility of position. I think it actually adds to some of the reservation about this team’s secondary, simply by it being another question mark going into the season. Where’s Bradley going to play? It is indeed a question that has yet to be answered, but are we really that concerned about it? If Blair emerges, than McDougald plays free. Though it seems he wants to play strong safety, it’s more likely that he will play opposite whichever of the other seven players proves most at camp.

Bradley consistently plays like one of the three or four best athletes on this defense. He will need to be healthy this year for them to have expectations of playoff success. Fortunately, he’s missed one game over the previous five seasons and is about as reliable as it gets.

Flashy newcomer (or Eugene Army Knife)Ugo Amadi. At 5’9”, Amadi is the shortest player in Seattle’s secondary. That doesn’t traditionally bode well for a strong safety, and it’s even worse for an edge cornerback. However, Amadi is apparently capable of playing any position in the defensive backfield. At his post-draft conference call, he quipped “I played two years of corner, two years of safety, and two years of nickel, and four years of special teams”. To which I heard “How did he play ten years of college?” from an unnamed father figure in the other room, but Amadi seems to be in step with Carroll’s expectations of him.

With that in mind, Ugo immediately stepped into camp playing a significant amount of nickel corner, and is currently listed on the Seahawks roster as a free safety. Former standout and current Detroit Lion Justin Coleman was 5’11”, and the recently departed legend Earl Thomas stood a towering 5’10”. Amadi’s strength in the NFL will be his quick acceleration and self-proclaimed ability to get the ball back. Just eight months ago, he became the first FBS player in five years to record two pick-6s and a punt return for a touchdown in the same season. Amadi will not not yet replace Bradley Mcdougald at FS. He’ll start at special teams while he learns the system and finds a rhythm in the secondary, but there is a possibility he plays well and wins the starting nickel corner position during camp.

Two tales of practice squad champs Shalom Luani and Akeem King.

Seattle picked up King from the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 after being cut, immediately signing him to the practice squad. King hadn’t played since 2015, but was active for all 16 games last year. He’s actually been re-signed to a $1.4 million contract this season, making his spot on the roster somewhat secure. Some have speculated his role would be Justin Coleman light for a whole lot less, except he’s really big for a slot corner. 6’3” 212 does not necessarily result in the twitchiness needed to play inside, however his 10.74 100m speed may keep him in the competition at that role. His shining moment last year was against the first-place Kansas City Chiefs, as he helped limit Travis Kelce to only five receptions for 54 yards and prevented him from scoring a touchdown.

Meanwhile Shalom Luani, who was acquired for some of Schneider’s coveted draft capital, only saw brief glimpses of the field in six games last season. Luani was acquired from the Raiders last September and signed to the practice squad twelve days later. Injuries to other safeties, which now feels like one of the more hobbled positions on the roster, have allowed Luani to finally gain significant summer experience. However, Carroll’s endorsement of him was tepid at best, the Pete equivalent of “he did fine”. This has been his best chance to prove his value to the coaching staff, but we will have to wait and see if his ability to, as Carroll said, “play either side”, is enough to keep him on the team for a second year.

Best Madden 2019 RatingBradley McDougald, 81. Well above average.

3 most important stats heading into 2019

Let’s see if we can describe the feel of the current secondary before we define it. When the ball is in the air, the Hawks are not as elite as they were from 2013-16. Even as late as parts of 2017, some opposing teams adjusted entire passing plans because of Seattle’s incomparable backs. Not Aaron Rodgers, of course, but some QBs did it I’m sure.

But there is hope. Once the ball is in hand, these Seahawks are actually getting to the ball better than years past. The result is 26 turnovers, coming in a different form than that which made the Legion of Boom famous.

For example:

Take first, 64. That’s how many passes Seattle defended last year, twenty-first in the NFL. They had at least 70 in each of the previous three seasons, including 78 two years ago.

Second, 12: Number of INTs last season. How fitting. With the exception of the 2013 championship year, that was close to how the Hawks have generally performed:
2017 – 14
2016 – 11
2015 – 14
2014 – 13
2013 – 28
2012 - 18

Finally, 21 forced fumbles and a total 14 fumble recoveries. I vividly remember the Kansas City Chiefs game when Justin Coleman came flying out of nowhere to slap the right arm of a very underprepared Chris Conley for a game-saving fumble. Finishing the play was Lano Hill, running almost thirty yards to dive on the ball before it trickled out-of-bounds.

Total turnovers:
2012 – 31
2013 - 39
2014 - 24
2015 - 23
2016 - 19
2017 - 25
2018 – 26. Still not even a top-10 mark in the league, but the highest turnover mark for the Hawks since they won the Super Bowl. John Fraley just wrote a great piece on Seattle’s fumble fortune, but the point is the Seahawks saw an increase in total turnovers even while their interception rate was slightly below their average. These current athletes appear better at finding the ball on the ground than in the air.

I think these Hawks are just as focused on turnovers – Carroll is still head coach last I checked – but their collective skillset has shifted. Personally, I get more excited about the aggressive destruction of forced fumbles. INTs are great for this:


and this:

...but give me some fumbles. This will definitely be a group to keep your eye on once camp starts.